An accomplished debut feature that drills down on the tragedy of what might befall today’s youth, Marcellus Cox’s intense drama is shot in black and white. That can be a barrier for audiences, but it’s also reflective of the bleak situation described, a cycle of abuse that affects protagonist Mickey Hardaway (Rashad Hunter) a young artist with a talent that might lead to success as an animator. Achieving that potential, however, proves problematic; Cox has expanded Mickey Hardaway from a short film he’d made previously, and the joins don’t show at all.
‘Life is the problem, people and family are the issue,’ says Mickey, before adding ‘I despise people with a passion’. Mickey has a lot to cope with, from bullying to student loans, and with his father something of a catalyst for his problems. ‘There’s a difference between being tough and being a dick,’ is a line that’s relevant to Mickey’s father Randall (David Chattam), who abuses his son but also exerts a steely psychological control over his actions and career path. Although Mickey’s animation project attracts the attention of his art teacher (Dennis LA White) and a potential financial windfall, Mickey’s dad’s experience doesn’t lend much credence to the idea that an arts qualification will set his son up for life in a hardscrabble world, and Mickey’s uncompromising attitude doesn’t do much to suggest he can make his undeniable talent stick.
‘He couldn’t control the world, but he could control the world inside his house,’ Mickey says with some insight of his father as the cycle of parental abuse continues, but there’s more to Mickey Hardaway’s social thesis than just bad parenting. A shocking opening kicks off with Mickey arriving unexpectedly at the house of his unsuspecting therapist (Stephen Cofield Jr) before shooting him. There’s also an unexpected burst of warm colour when Mickey finds a romance with Grace (Ashley Parchment) who has legacy issues of her own, but struggles to stop Mickey getting into trouble. And there’s also an experienced animator (Samuel Whitehill) who wants to work with Mickey, but finds that the young man’s uncompromising, battle-hardened brand of ambition gets in the way.
‘When you feel that the world don’t give a sh*t about you, you feel like you’ve got nothing to lose…’ is a line that reflects what many of us feel in 2023, but that’s no reason for Mickey’s violent actions; Cox manages to make sure that we don’t go down a Taxi Driver route of excusing what Mickey does, but he does offer understanding. Mickey goes from proclaiming ‘You can’t buy my soul’ to admitting ‘I don’t know how to love’, and that admission of his own failures ultimately proves to be part of Mickey’s unravelling. Mickey Hardaway is a serious-minded and well-acted film that’s worth commending for those who are prepared to listen to a cogent social message. It’s a young person’s film, and better for it; it’s a howl of anger that’s all too familiar as the grind of poverty and manipulation grips most of us more tightly with each passing year.